Yesterday, the Premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan announced roadmaps to the post-COVID-19 world for their respective provinces. Saskatchewan is ending its vaccine passport on February 14, with nearly all remaining public health orders (like facemasks and mandatory self-isolation) ending on February 28. In Alberta, where the number of restrictions is far greater, the vaccine passport ended on February 8 at midnight as part one of a three-part plan. On March 1, step two will remove several restrictions impacting schools and businesses, with step three occurring at a later date.
Although Premiers Scott Moe and Jason Kenney aim to end up in the same spot, each is motivated by remarkably different factors. Voters and businesses in both provinces should be prepared for a significant shift in their daily lives as the complicated web of restrictions are eased.
In Saskatchewan, voters give Premier Moe mixed marks on his handling of the pandemic. According to a recent Angus Reid poll, Premier Moe sits in the middle of the pack at 45% support, while his handling of the pandemic drops to 37% approval. However, Premier Moe benefits from a disciplined caucus and a weak NDP opposition. No doubt, the Premier is experiencing internal cleavages between his urban and rural MLAs, but thus far his team has effectively managed to keep those rifts from spilling over into the public domain. Further to that, municipal leaders seem unlikely to enact their own COVID-19 restrictions in the absence of provincial ones. From our perspective, Premier Moe is approaching Saskatchewan’s shift to a post-COVID-19 world from a position of strength.
It is a different story in Alberta. The international border is currently the site of a blockade, attracting international attention. Premier Kenney’s caucus isn’t afraid to reach out to the media to express their frustrations and the mayors of both Edmonton and Calgary may back fill provincial restrictions with their own bylaws. The split between urban and rural appears most pronounced in Alberta and extends into the UCP caucus which is building as the party leadership vote is in roughly six weeks. It is a precarious position and the challenge for Premier Kenney is convincing Albertans that his leadership is making objective, science-based decisions in the public interest, not self-serving political calculations.
With these recent announcements, both provincial leaders are keen to be seen as leading the charge out of the pandemic for Canada, motivating economic stability and reinforcing growth. That is easier said than done. Navigating and operating within this volatile political landscape with uncertainties around receptiveness of the “return to normal,” complicated set of provincial regulations and municipal bylaws, and unintended consequences within markets will be challenging for businesses. And as both leaders look to reinforce their leadership positions, staying on top of the government trajectory and motivations will be key.